It has been a while since a movie has moved me to tears. Freedom Writers now holds this honour. Based on a true story, Freedom Writers takes us to Woodland Ridge High School where voluntary integration has been adopted. This has led to groups of students from different backgrounds (Asians, Blacks, Latinos, and a few whites) forming themselves into isolated cliques and warring factions. Morale is extremely low and teachers have basically given up on their students who will eventually either be kicked out or choose to drop out. The gang warfare that takes place in the streets frequently moves into the school. It’s a dangerous, demoralising environment where there is little, if any, hope or respect.
Into this very challenging school comes Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank), a pretty, naive, enthusiastic new teacher who is ready and willing to teach the Freshmen English class. The yawning gap between Erin and her students is immediately obvious. She just doesn’t fit in to the culture of the school. She is clearly uncomfortable, vulnerable, and ignorant of the realities of her students’ lives and the conditions under which they live.
Erin decides, however, that these given-up-as-hopeless kids are worth persisting with and she spends her own time and money on them believing that she can make a difference and turn their lives around. This all comes at a cost - other teaching staff disagree with her methods and her ideals; her relationship with her husband begins to deteriorate. Using journaling to encourage her students to share and reflect on their lives, she gradually facilitates a transformation in her students.
There have been a number of movies about teachers entering into disadvantaged situations and managing to change their lives around. So the overall narrative is not new. But Freedom Writers approaches the story with enough fresh elements that, despite some cliches, gives it an emotional depth that makes it truly engaging.
This movie is uneven. At times, the story seems to drag a bit and the performances are adequate with a few standing out from the rest. Hilary Swank does an excellent job and April Hernandez as Eva shines in her role. Freedom Writers is an enjoyable, at times moving experience that reminds us how important tolerance, cross-cultural communication, and the inherent value of every human being is.
My Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)
’It all sounds like a recipe for the most noxious liberal jerk-off movie since "Crash," but in the hands of writer-director Richard LaGravenese, Freedom Writers turns out to be a superb piece of mainstream entertainment -- not an agonized debate over the principles of modern education à la "The History Boys," but a simple, straightforward and surprisingly affecting story of one woman who managed to make a difference. - Scott Foundas/LA Weekly
’Despite solid work from the engaging cast, there’s nothing new here to distinguish Freedom Writers.’ - Liz Beardsworth/Empire
Violent content, some thematic material and language